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Civil rights charges in W.Va. dropped

March 27, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - An indictment returned against a white Jefferson County man charging him with violating the civil rights of three black people who were hunting has been dropped in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

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Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. agreed Friday to dismiss the indictment against David Lee Bell Jr. without prejudice, which means Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson can present the case to a grand jury again.

Thompson made the motion to dismiss the charges against Bell, 55, of Route 1, Kearneysville, W.Va., after saying he had discovered a problem in the case.

On Nov. 25, 1998, Clyde M. Eggleton and his two sons were hunting in a field near the intersection of Wiltshire Road and Leetown Pike just west of Charles Town.

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A man later identified as Bell approached Eggleton and his sons and told them he was the owner of the property, according to a criminal complaint filed by State Police Trooper Monte Williams.

Eggleton told police he believed the land was owned by someone else.

The man pointed a rifle at the three men and threatened to shoot them if they came back to the property again, Williams alleged in the complaint.

The three also alleged the man used racial slurs in referring to them.

Thompson told Steptoe he originally believed the three men had permission to hunt on the land but later discovered they did not.

"Our proof is now jeopardized," Thompson told Steptoe.

Thompson said he still believes there was a violation of civil rights in the case and he wants to present the case to a grand jury again next month.

Defense attorney David A. Camilletti objected, saying the prosecutor's case is weak and "they want to make up something else."

The land where the three men were hunting is made up of two tracts owned by two different people, Camilletti said. Bell manages land for one of the property owners.

Camilletti said the three men were on the property managed by Bell, while the hunters claim they were on the other property.

Bell was indicted under a statute passed by the state Legislature about three years ago that expands existing laws protecting minorities from discrimination in the workplace and schools because of their race.

The indictment had charged Bell with three counts of wanton endangerment involving a firearm, three counts of violation of the civil rights of another person and three counts of impeding any person engaged in lawful hunting of wildlife.

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